Based on the threads' a thinking man's guide to Chaotic Neutral and Chaotic Evil, I seek to outline the concept of what I see the alignment system to be. My primary focus is that of the Forgotten Realms. The reason is that it's not only the most iconic world, but also one that I know the most about.
I will be talking about gods; however, perhaps not with the same training wheel perspective as the later books give them. I see gods as immensly powerful, but petty entities. They define in their own mind what is right or wrong (or in the case of Cyric right and wrong).
The first thing that's important to notice that this is a fantasy setting. This is not local morés with funny ears attached. The primary differences though are that gods are real and magic is real. Gods are an active, every day occurance. They are seen in the weather patterns, the rise and setting of the sun and the moons, and in other everyday occurances.
A cleric channels his god. A person sick is cured with the benevolence of said god. Gods walk the planet and occasionally drop by a local inn. They are not a distant force, but a constant, ever present one.
Your life and more importantly your death are defined by your actions. A gnome who goes against the grain will not enter Carl Glittergold's realm. A paladin of Torm with a situational morality will not reach Celestia. What happens to them? They end up as undead or even worse. As adventurers you've fought them, they are not mythical or distant.
This brings us to alignment. Alignment is about aligning to the pantheon of the gods (if not especially religious) or the portfolio of a single god (if especially mono religious). A pantheon is a group of gods that the person feels affinity towards, a pantheon is usually from the same alignment or one degree seperated i.e., Torm (Lawful Good) and his subservient deity Bahamut (Lawful Good). A portfolio is a group of characteristics which are part of that god - i.e., in the case of Torm: duty, loyalty, and righteousness/obedience.
The average person worships a whole host of gods. Sacrifices are made to Chauntea during the planting and harvest season. Malar's tax is given before and after a hunt. The worship of one god or another is not seen better or worse, as long as it's not by putting one god before the other.
Sacrifice and ritual are an important aspect of life. They also give rewards, sometimes small and sometimes in great need, great ones. Understand though that rituals to gods demand a balance. So if an adventurer wishes to close a rift to an abyssal layer, the gods may require a large tithe. This may not always be the murder of an individual (unless it's a hated enemy fo the god), but a promise (building a temple in the location, devoting a large amount of time turn turning a populace to the faith of this god), a quest (finding the lost head of Vecna) or an offering of great value (a hated enemy of the god or a magical item). Also sacrifices and rituals are rewarded based on the spirit of the ritual, not on the actual offering (unless you are Torm, in which case I am sure he has a list for value of item sacrificed vs what you can get out of it).
In addition, the sacrifice to opposing gods is usually frowned at. Conducting a ritual to Selune and then turning around and offering the same ritual to Shar is going to mean a rebuke from both. The gods punish wrong actions, reward the right ones, both in actions and in worship.
The concept of right and wrong are god dependent. There are things that a god will define in its dogma. For example the church of Chauntea outlines a general set of precepts and forbiddances, though some of these are given to subjective interpretation, since the faith is individualistic. Chauntean's see wanton destruction as antithetical to the cycle of life. They are urged to nourish at least one living thing every day of their lives. They are advised to eschew fire also.
So a farmer who uses slash and burn agriculture may not be considered a true follower of Chauntea. Of course Chauntea for whatever reason may decide that this region has different tenents of her dogma. This muddies the waters of right and wrong further.
Adventurers are the less lukewarm of the populace, instead they gravitate towards a single alignment and move their life in that direction. Even a non-religiously attached adventurer will find a personal pantheon or individual portfolio to follow.
What I am trying to get at (and it's late - so maybe not clear) is this: When creating a character it is important to figure out through alignment what kinds of gods the character feels kinship with. When you have come to a conclusion of the type or tpes of gods which are in alignment your character's worldview, it is so much easier then to see what is right and wrong from the gods' perspective.
This also gives a sense of right and wrong and from there it's easier to create characters as they are immersed in the world of the gods and through that the society in which that character inhabits.
This is nice. Your post explains how a character can feel closer to the world through the gods, developing a deep connection between ideals and principles. This can definately help new players out, too.
At least, this is what I *think* you're trying to say. If so, you did a good job of it.
I like this post, you've recognised an important piece of roleplay here. I posted a thread a while ago, asking people to suggest a patron deity for a character of mine. It was interesting how people interpreted the different dogmas and portfolios of the Faerunian gods.